The Leadership Challenge: Top Qualities And Best Practices Of A Top Performing Leader With Jim Kouzes

The world has changed a lot since the classic bestseller, The Leadership Challenge was first published in the early 1980s, but the core principles of good leadership remain essentially the same. Leadership qualities like honesty, credibility and openness to feedback are so evergreen that further research only tends to solidify their truth and relevance. Join Dr. Diane Hamilton as she engages in an amazing discussion with the book’s co-author, Jim Kouzes. Jim brings us up to speed about the updates to the book in its upcoming 7th edition, as well as some of the amazing academic work that he and his colleagues are doing at the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. One of the interesting things you’ll learn from this conversation is that only one in a million people do not have some leadership ability. If by any chance you are one of those people, that would be the only reason why you shouldn’t listen to this.

TTL 760 | The Leadership Challenge


I’m glad you joined us because we have Jim Kouzes here. He is the co-author of the award-winning bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge, which is in the 100 Best Business Books of All Times. I’m sure you’ve read it. It’s coming up in the seventh edition. I’m excited to have Jim on the show. This is going to be great.

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The Leadership Challenge: Top Qualities And Best Practices Of A Top Performing Leader With Jim Kouzes

I am here with Jim Kouzes, who’s the co-author with Barry Posner of the award-winning and bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge now in its 6th edition with over 2.5 million copies sold. He’s also serving as a Fellow of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. He’s listed everywhere as the most influential international thinker and global guru. Everything he’s done is amazing as far as his work. He’s also developed the widely used and highly acclaimed Leadership Practices Inventory, the LPI that switches a 360-degree questionnaire assessing leadership behavior. It’s nice to have you here, Jim.

Diane, thank you. It’s a pleasure. Thank you for the work that you do on curiosity, emotional intelligence and all the wonderful contributions you’ve made. I’m delighted to be talking with you.

It was nice of you and it means a lot coming from you because you’ve done many amazing things. I think of all that you’ve done and I want to get to that but I want to get to a background first of what led to you working with Barry and that level of success. Is there a backstory to that?

There’s a long one and a short one. I’ll give you the short one. Barry and I first met each other at Santa Clara University. I had joined at the invitation of the dean to be the director of the Executive Development Center. I was unpacking my boxes at my new office and there’s a knock on the door. In the door frame, there was this tall guy who said, “You’re in my office.” I said, “I’m sorry. I thought this was mine. The dean told me this was my office.”

He laughed and said, “It is your office. It used to be my office. Welcome to Santa Clara University. If you need to meet anybody, get a tour of the campus and talk about stuff. I know what it’s like to be the new guy. I’ll be happy to help you out.” I took him up on the offer and long story short, we found we had some common interest and that was back in late 1981, early 1982. We explored that on values and culture and that turned into an exploration of leadership. Here we are, the sixth edition of The Leadership Challenge.

This was named as one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time. What does that make you feel like when you hear that? Does that blow your mind? Did you think it was going to be that when you were writing it?

Not at all, Diane. I feel blessed. Part of it is because we keep persisting and we love the topic, we love to investigate it, data and research coming out of an academic setting. People have responded to it and we feel pleased and blessed that we’ve had the response. The first edition was ‘87. We’re many years into this and we’re coming out with a seventh edition in 2022.

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The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations

You talked about coming out of an academic setting. What is your academic background?

I’m one of these guys who has mostly learned from experience, but I went and graduated from Michigan State. When I graduated, I went into the Peace Corps. When I came back from the Peace Corps, I looked for a job and found one, which took me to the University of Texas at Austin. I got some graduate school training at San Jose State in organization development. I never did my PhD. What I know about leadership has been through doing the research with Barry and being affiliated with academic institutions now since 1972.

You definitely did a real-world Doctorate. I’ve been to the Doerr Institute. Tom Kolditz showed me around. It’s my first and only time I went to Houston, I got stuck on the runway there a few times. I never got out to see anything because it was a lot of rain as I recall in Houston when you go fly through there but it was beautiful. I was excited to tour it and loved seeing what they’re doing there. A lot of what you have written and talked about and everything that you work on ties into what I’m passionate about, which is leadership. I’ve heard you talk about honesty, trustworthiness and credibility.

Some of that is what I deal with when I write about curiosity and perception which makes interesting lectures in the courses and the training that I do because to find someone worth following, there are certain things that people are looking for in their leader. Trust is a huge thing that comes up. I gave a talk and 3 or 4 of the questions came up about trust. How much do you hear about trust these days? Is it any different from the 1st edition to the 6th or 7th edition of what you’re saying? What’s changing?

I’ll tell you about the seventh edition because we are engaged in doing an update of our survey so we can compare it to the first one but I took a preliminary look at the data and it’s consistent. Barry and I got interested in this whole notion of what do people look for in their leaders because we want it to look at the flip side much of, including our own work, what’s written on leadership is from the perspective of what does a leader do when they’re operating at their best. We said that’s great but how does that align with what people want from their leaders? We asked that question in our early research on personal-best leadership experiences which became The Leadership Challenge. The first criteria on the list then, this was back in ‘82, ‘83 when we first started doing this, and now is honesty.

Some synonyms that in our research would be trust, trustworthiness, tells the truth, those kinds of synonyms. People want honest leaders at 88% to 90% and that’s been consistent since we started. It’s huge and it is the number one variable in what people in communications research call source credibility. People need to trust the word of the person that they’re listening to in order to believe what that person is saying. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message. It is the most important quality which leaders must protect at all costs. When we don’t, we tend to lose followers. People aren’t willing to follow us because they can’t trust us.

In the research I have in my latest book on perception, I was looking at the process of perception. I had it as an epic process. You were going through this evaluation, prediction, interpretation, eventually correlation of what you’re learning. The evaluation and prediction part to me was the emotional intelligence in a way because it’s understanding yourself and others. To make that prediction of what other people are going to do to react and perceive what they’re going to do, a lot of it is based on what they did in the past. A lot of people lose a lot of their credibility because they haven’t been trained to be a good leader. I was listening to one of your talks. You said that 98% of companies believe leadership development is critical at age 21 but it doesn’t start until age 34. Is that what you’re seeing still? That talk was a couple of years ago.

Employers want people to come to them these days having been developed as leaders, not waiting until they get to be a supervisor to be trained. Unfortunately, they don’t invest enough. They say they want this but they don’t invest enough in the early development of leaders. The average age is around 40 when people get their first formal leadership development. They may get some informal mentoring or coaching. That’s our finding but that’s also from folks like Jack Sanger, whom you know.

[bctt tweet=”If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message.” username=””]

Given that there’s a big gap between when they want people to start to have learned to lead and when people get their formal training. With that said, at Rice University in Houston, Tom Kolditz and his colleagues are doing some amazing work in offering, for example, every student who goes to Rice, the opportunity to participate in leadership development during their time at Rice at no additional cost to them. It’s just the investment of their time. About 1/3 of students at Rice are taking advantage of this. That’s huge and then it gives them a leg up when it comes to employment because they’re getting the training that employers want earlier on. More universities are getting on board with this. Carnegie Foundation is helping with this. I’m optimistic about the future but we’re still seeing it start later than it should.

What I found interesting at Doerr was that you’re offering it to the people outside of the business program. I thought it would be in the business leadership students but everybody needs this, right?

Absolutely. When Tom asked me to join as a fellow, I assumed the same thing. I said, “This will be available to a select group of students.” In fact, I quickly learned that it’s every single student regardless of what your major is. That’s amazing and necessary in every institution of higher education. The impact on students is profound. Diane, I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your own work. Young people tend early on to have some different perceptions about leadership than people at work. One, they may not want to do it because they’re focused on a particular profession and a career. They want to get into that so they’d be an individual contributor. Other people have a negative image of leaders about being bosses, directive and controlling.

They don’t want to be in that role but they come quickly to learn. The image of leadership is changing around young people. Leadership is everyone’s business. It’s something that regardless of whether you have a rank, position or title, you can be a leader of your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members, not just people who are employees, direct reports. Doerr is doing an amazing job of awakening what they call leader identity in young people. That’s wonderful to see that and I’m hoping for more institutions to do this.

I was impressed with that. Tom has been on the show and I’ve been part of the Thinkers 50 Group with him and different things. He’s amazing and the work he’s doing. As you’re talking about this, it brings up all the training and everything that people aren’t receiving elsewhere. In your research, we want leaders to have this training but they’re not getting it. If we’re wanting to admire our leaders, have this sense that we trust them and they’re credible, but they’re not getting it. How do you get that credibility back? I don’t think a lot of leaders even know that they’re not credible sometimes, do you think?

They don’t get the feedback, a little bit of data related to that. When we use our Leadership Practices Inventory, we’ve been doing this for decades and five million people in our database. We find that the lowest-scoring item on the LPI, Leadership Practices Inventory, is asking for feedback. You’re not going to get better if you don’t ask for feedback.

There’s your curiosity.

TTL 760 | The Leadership Challenge
The Leadership Challenge: Credibility is the foundation of leadership. It is the most important quality which leaders must protect at all costs.


One of the things we can start doing to become better leaders is to ask people to give us some feedback and how we’re doing. If I’m a young person at their university or I’m in a middle managerial position at work and I want to improve my leadership, one of the most basic things I can do is ask people to give me feedback on how I’m doing. Interestingly enough, the more frequently leaders ask for feedback, the more effective they’ve seen, yet we have this perception that if I asked for feedback, it shows I’m weak. It shows I’m not doing a good job or I’ll get some negative feedback and that’ll reflect poorly on me. It won’t.

In fact, our data shows the opposite but there’s the following. Once you learn about some deficiency in your capacity or even strength, you need to follow through and do something about it. That’s what credibility is behaviorally. You do what you say you will do. If somebody says to me, “Jim, you’re not a good listener. You talk too much and you talk over people. You interrupt people. You never ask enough questions.” If I get that negative feedback from people, I say, “I’m going to improve. I’m going to do better.” If I keep doing the same thing, I’ve diminished my credibility and have not improved it. We have to be sure that if we make a promise to people, we’re going to follow through on that promise.

A lot of people may not even want to know. That’s the problem. What people tell you is another problem. Do you think that Steve Jobs wanted to know and would he have done anything or did he want people to tell him? There are certain people who are interesting to research like that. What’s your opinion of his leadership style? I’m sure people ask you that a lot but I’m curious.

One of the first clients of the Leadership Challenge Workshop that Barry and I did because of the fact that Ann Powers, the VP of HR was on our board at the Business School at Santa Clara University at that time, was Apple Computer. I had the chance to work there. Steve was not known for his receptivity to other people’s feedback when it was not to his liking. On the other hand, Steve had some good coaches and mentors along the way. Over time, he became much more receptive particularly in the second tour he had at Apple as CEO. He grew and matured. He became much better at that though not as good as would have been desirable. With that said, the leaders of Apple Computer or any of the other companies that you have worked with or I have worked with, the majority of people want to be better leaders, they want to grow and learn.

There’s this perception out there that if you look at the data, for example, the trustworthiness of CEOs, and you ask somebody who is a late person looking at an organization for a large company, they tend to have a negative image of people in those roles. If you ask the people who directly report to those people, they get much more different and that goes to your point about perception. The farther we are from someone, is more likely will have a negative impression of them. The closer we are, we’re more likely to have a positive impression. We know that person better. That’s not universal.

That means if I know somebody well, I’m going to have and only a positive image of that person. I certainly will see their flaws if I know them well but I’m much more likely to not be as negative about that individual if I know them as well. To some extent, our perception of leaders and the negative perception of many senior leaders, in particular, is because of that distance then the lack of proximity knowing the person well.

Many people on the show agree that there have been two Steve Jobs. The second time, he humbled a bit. I was thinking about those who are reading who may not be familiar with your five practices of exemplary leadership. I know you’ve said that you liked stories and narratives of companies and he’s somebody who a lot of people are familiar with. Can we talk about those five practices and relate it to him whether it was good or not good? It might be interesting.

[bctt tweet=”Leadership is a team sport.” username=””]

I’d love to talk about that but rather than use Steve Jobs as the only subject, we can do that, here’s what I’d like folks to be thinking about as we talk about these. Our research started out with a simple question and observation that varies on my part. There are excellent leaders in not so excellent companies. There are leaders other than CEOs and founders of companies. In fact, there are more of them than there are CEOs because the CEO is at the pinnacle of a pyramid. There are significantly more leaders around the world than those people in senior positions. Let’s take a look at not those people. Let’s take a look at folks all around the organization from top to bottom and outside. Let’s look at students and other populations other than working professionals.

We created a questionnaire for initial research called the Personal Best Leadership Experience. We asked people to write about or talk to us about in an interview the time when they did their best as a leader like your Olympic gold medal-winning performance from your experience. People talked about that. From that, those stories that people told us, we discovered that there were five practices, we call them that were consistent across all these stories regardless of the position or any demographic variable. Location, gender, type of industry, the function they’re in, etc. Those five are model the way. That’s being clear about your own values and beliefs and then setting an example based upon your beliefs and the shared beliefs of the organization or the group that you lead.

The second practice is to inspire a shared vision. What emerged from the Personal Best Leadership stories is that when people were leading at their best, they were clear about the direction they wanted to go. They had a vision of the future, they imagine some exciting possibilities for the future and then they enlisted others in it by making the connection of the dots. Here’s how this image of the future connects to what you aspire to as well. They also challenged the process, the third practice, by the search for opportunities to do things differently, seize the initiative and look outward for ways to improve. They experimented and took risks because you often make mistakes when you take risks. People learn from those mistakes and they treated them as learning experiences because you can’t do it alone.

Leaders need to enable others to act, the fourth practice and leaders strengthen other individuals to be their best. They also fostered collaboration, teamwork and trust. The fifth practice that emerged was what we call to encourage the hardware where people recognize individual contributions by showing appreciation towards individuals and then they celebrated the values and the victories together as a community. Those five models inspire challenge, enable and encourage or what emerged from asking the average leader what they did when they were at their best. It’s important to stress, Diane, that these are practices that all of us can utilize and demonstrate. It’s not for a few charismatic men and women. Our data shows that 99.99987% of people have some leadership capability. To reverse that, 0.00013% of people don’t. That’s 1 in 1 million people.

I’m thinking of a few past leaders, maybe they made it.

Around the globe, that does add up to a lot of people but what it demonstrates is if you’re in an organization of 100,000 people, you’re not going to find a lot of people who aren’t capable of being an exemplary leader. That doesn’t mean they are exemplary because to become exemplary in anything, you need training and development. You need coaching, be persistent in learning over time, and making it a continuous process, not a one-off where you go to a workshop and say, “Now I’m a better leader.” We have to invest in continuous learning to be exemplary but the vast majority of us have the capacity to learn to lead.

When we talk about examples, we can point to say Steve Jobs who clearly was at the high-end of the scale around inspiring a shared vision. He’d got a lot of people on board with his dreams. On enable others to act, he was not the best. It wasn’t because of Steve that people felt like they were stronger and more efficacious. On challenge, he was high on that one, too. He was out there experimenting, taking risks, trying new things, failing a lot, recovering from that and learning from it. Steve, like all of us, had a lot of improvement to do in order to become exemplary in all these practices. The same is true for each and every one of us.

TTL 760 | The Leadership Challenge
The Leadership Challenge: One of the things we can start doing to become better leaders is to ask people to give us some feedback on how we’re doing.


I would encourage people to think about your Personal Best Leadership Experiences. We know that for most people that have been in these roles, there is something that they did at one time that stood out to them as off the charts. Where they felt in the groove, they felt in the flow, and they felt like they were doing an extraordinary job and other people performed along with them? Think about that experience. How can you replicate that? How can you implement model, inspire, challenge, enable and encourage yourself?

The way you took Steve Jobs was interesting because it reminded me a little bit of what Daniel Goleman said on the show when we talked about his emotional intelligence of Steve Jobs. He had some areas he was good and some areas he’s not so good. We’re all like that. Pursuing learning over time and how we have this continuous learning journey, it ties into a lot of the work I did with curiosity. What I was trying to do with my work was my assessment determined the things that kept people from being curious so that you can move forward.

It was all about getting out of the status quo and to me, the status quo comes into the challenge part of what you’re talking about there. Whatever word you use, curiosity, avoiding status quo, challenging, I look at that part as what ignites many other things. The engagement, motivation drive and innovation. It’s everything we’re trying to accomplish. I liken it to baking a cake. You have all these ingredients, you’re baking a cake but if you don’t turn on the oven, your cake is goo. The oven, the sparks, everything is curiosity. I’ve had a lot of people on the show talk about this and how it ties into everything.

That’s why I wanted to figure out what stopped it or inhibited it because if you don’t know what’s inhibiting you or what’s keeping you from moving forward, how do you move forward? How do you help people? The four things that kept people from being curious that I found were fear, assumptions, those are what you tell yourself, the voice in your head, technology, the over and underutilization of it, and the environment. Everybody you’ve come into contact with, the Steve Jobs who cut you down in the hallway or whoever, your family or teachers and that type of thing. Now you know these kinds of things. What examples or have you worked with companies that have done a great job of inspiring curiosity? I wanted to hear what your thoughts were on that.

There are a couple of things. First of all, we agree that learning leadership as well as leading, curiosity is vital. When we did our personal best research, we discovered that what was true about every single case in terms of context which was each one of them was about adversity difficulty challenge. What adversity challenge difficulty does is it forces us to consider alternatives. What can we do differently? What we were doing wasn’t working for us or the environment’s changed outside. Let’s think about COVID and what it did.

All of a sudden, we were locked down. How do we communicate with each other? What do we do to have meetings? How do we become people who say healthy during this pandemic? We started to adopt new behaviors because we had to. Some people felt like, why do we need to do this? Those who faced reality and said, “We have a new problem here. We have something we’ve never experienced before. Let’s invent some new ways.” Individuals behaved in that way, tended to do better, have done better during this pandemic than those who have not.

If you look at the data on adversity, I know you know this from your work on curiosity, people who look at the challenge as an opportunity are more likely to be successful in dealing with adverse circumstances than people who look at it as a threat. The first thing we can encourage people to do when it comes to being more curious and being successful at dealing with a challenge is to look at what opportunities does this allow me to take, investigate and do something different about. The second thing is and this relates to learning, we know that when we try new things, we’re not going to get it right the first time.

[bctt tweet=”Managers organize, plan and control. Leaders, on the other hand, take us to places we’ve never been before.” username=””]

If all the business phrases that have been used over time, that’s the one I hate the most. Get it right the first time. I’ve never got anything right the first time I tried. I defy anyone to tell me that they’ve got it right the first time. It’s by accident if you did. It’s not because you’re good. People say, “Jim, we made a mistake.” That’s interesting. What do we do wrong? What could we do differently the next time that might prevent that? Let’s learn from this instead of ignoring it, denying it or being afraid to take that next step because we made a mistake.

Those couple of things feed the curiosity. Another thing that we encourage people to do during difficult times is to look outside of yourself, group or organization to ask you, “What are other people doing? What can I adapt or adopt in my organization like that? How can I use that to stimulate some new ideas in our organization?” When people look inward during a time like a difficult challenging experience, they don’t come up with the best ideas.

That’s such an important thing because the hospital in London fixed their deaths from patients being transferred from the OR to recovery by looking at Formula One race car teams and how they were efficient. Thinking of VanMoof bicycles, they stopped breakage of their bikes by shipping them because they saw how flat-screen TVs were shipped in similar containers but had a picture of a flat-screen on the front. They printed that on their box and found that they could reduce their damages. That’s what you’re saying.

Everybody is in their cubicles or teams even their silos but then they don’t get outside their industry, do they? Mostly, I see people staying within but I’ve seen it better in younger generations. When you were talking about taking these learning opportunities instead of thinking about its failure, I’m seeing that younger generations are better at that than Boomers used to be because we looked at certain things as failures much more than learning opportunities in the past. Do you see that in different generations?

In general, the younger we are, the more curious we tend to be. If you look at young kids, they’re highly curious. We have to protect them from their curiosity because they might get burned, fall, or do something that could harm them. Younger people tend to be that way, they get into organizations and they often are discouraged from continuing that curiosity. As you know from research, when people are curious, they demonstrate more growth-oriented behaviors. Interestingly enough, we see a greater presence, they see more meaning in their work when they’re curious, and they have more life satisfaction because they’re more curious. Curiosity leads to a lot of positive benefits and we need to continue to encourage that despite the barriers that we face.

I’ve had a lot of courses I’ve taught. More than 1,000 business courses and I’m thinking how many times Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership comes up. Do you look at it as an inverted pyramid where the leader is not necessarily on the top? What do you think of that concept?

We look at it as more distributed and the upside-down pyramid is one way to look at it. A circle is another way to look at it. Leadership needs to be viewed as a team sport, not an individual sport in the sense that leadership can get passed around and we may be on the same day, a leader, and a follower. From one person who has more expertise, leading a project and the next hour, I may be leading it because I have more expertise, considered more credible, know something more about this, or know people who I can introduce into the equation.

TTL 760 | The Leadership Challenge
The Leadership Challenge: People who look at the challenge as an opportunity are more likely to be successful in dealing with adverse circumstances than people who look at it as a threat.


If you take a look at the five practices, people can assume those practices in a different context. Sometimes, we need to follow another person’s lead even if we have the formal title of being the formal leader in that circumstance. We view it more in terms of a circle where the leadership gets passed around then something that is a top-down experience but the philosophy of servant leadership is something that we wholeheartedly endorse. The notion that leaders serve in support, they don’t command and control.

I’ve seen many people talk about this that younger generations want to be seen as an expert on the team more than the leader. You could come to me and if I know more, you could call me the leader but we’re all in this together. Are you seeing more of that?

We’re making generalizations here but young people tend to be more collaborative and cooperative because of the environments that many, if not, most of the grown-up in there is a more diverse group of people. They learned to get along with and be in relationships with people who are not like them. They have more diverse experiences and tend to be more inclusive. If you look at the data I was reviewing on politics, young people are more inclined to vote for people who support diversity and inclusion. Those are norms that have changed and that preference on the part of younger people enables them to be more open to working with people not like themselves and more oriented towards diversity, inclusion and equity.

It’s interesting to see the difference in what they teach in leadership. When I got my first degree in Management, they didn’t even hear the word leadership. Everything was management then you heard differentiation between leaders and managers saying one is more strategic, one is more tactical. How do you look at leaders and managers?

When we were writing the first edition, this was a question that’s been with us forever. When you look up the word lead in the dictionary and at its root, it means go travel guide. That was illuminating to us because it has no association with position or level at all. It’s all about guiding, traveling or thinking. Think about taking people on a destination to a place they’ve never been to before. Manage, on the other hand, has its root origin the word monos, which means hand. This image came to us of managers handle things, leaders go places. Leaders take us to places we’ve never been before whereas managers organize, plan and control.

Both are necessary. You need to be managing and leading but sometimes, when you’re focusing on the leading part, you have to let go of some of that managing part. For example, if I was strong in planning and organizing, I might not experiment and take risks as much because it’s not in the plan. Where does it say we’re supposed to take a risk? We’re supposed to execute. One may inhibit the other. On the other hand, if I’m all about inspiring with a shared vision and never get down to putting it into practice, action, and making a plan then it’s a dream. We need to think about these as not mutually exclusive but different. Sometimes, I need to be more about leading and other times, I may need to be more about managing.

That brings up the born or made the discussion which I’m sure ties into what you get asked a lot.

Whenever we did this, Barry and I, we’ve been asked that question. That is the most frequently asked question. We did the research and we came up with a scientific answer to that question which is we’ve never met a person or a leader who was not born. All leaders are born, meaning they all exist on this planet ye when you look at which ones become more effective in other people’s views, they foster more engagement, it takes a lot of practice and continuous learning. It can be developed. Thinking about Rice University and Doerr Institute, and you look at the data that Tom and his colleagues have gathered.

[bctt tweet=”Believe that you can lead.” username=””]

When people first start out in the program, they don’t have a strong leader identity as when they end. Training and development and coaching and leadership help people to see themselves as leaders. Let me tell you one brief story that relates to this. We’ll call this woman Jane Blake. Jane is a real person but not using her real name. She wrote to me and Barry a letter. She was from West Virginia. She was in the West Virginia government as a middle manager. She had two bachelor’s degrees and she was working on her Master’s degree.

She was taking her first leadership formal course in her Master’s program. They happened to be using our material but they could have been using anyone’s leadership material. She said, “When I first started and I looked around the class, I saw people who were generals and officers in the military. I saw people who were executives in the business. I thought to myself, I don’t see myself as a leader. ‘I’m only a mother, grandmother, and coal miner’s daughter.’” She said, “After participating in this class, I began to believe that someone like myself can become a leader.”

I think that’s the single most important transition anyone can make is to believe in yourself. Believe that you can lead. That’s called the growth mindset in Carol Dweck’s terminology. We found clearly in research that my wife, Tae Kyung, and my coauthor, Barry Posner, did that those leaders with a growth mindset reported engaging in the five practices we talked about significantly more often than those leaders with a fixed mindset. The mindset we bring to learning leadership is important in our learning to lead.

Jane made that transition from only mother, grandmother, coal miner’s daughter to I, too can become a leader. That reframing helped her to become a better leader. That’s the first step in the process. You have to have goals, aspirations to learn new things, you need to challenge yourself, step outside of your comfort zone, and try some new behaviors. You need to engage some support by getting a coach, a mentor, turning to a friend and colleague to help you and you need to practice.

That’s such a great story. I had finished speaking for Curiosity Month for Novartis and they try to encourage curiosity as their core culture throughout the organization of Verizon. I did some talks for them and they do the same things. When you look at what the leaders are trying to hope to inspire people from above, it’s important that leaders buy into it at the top whether the pyramid is upside down, right side, or wherever. Do you still think the culture needs to be at the top of a pyramid somehow coming down? Do you think you could change that from below?

It’s evident that the behavior at the top, the example, right or wrong that they said influences others particularly the more visible it is, we need to make sure that we send the right signals from the top of organizations. At the same time, I have to add that the most influential leader in any organization is your most immediate manager. They have more influence on day-to-day behavior. Why? Because you don’t come into contact with the chief executive officer. You may not even hear from that person but you do interact more with your immediate manager on a daily basis. Each of us individually, that could be a coach, teacher, manager at work, parent, when you’re in a leadership role behaving like a leader, you have more influence on those closest to you than any other single leader. In organizations where we want to create a particular kind of culture, we need to make sure that it behaved consistently from bottom to top.

This ties in everything you write, talk about and everything that you do. You ended your leadership challenge with the secret to success in life. You talk about leaving a legacy and what’s important. What are the things we can do to make sure we leave the legacy we want?

The first step for all of us is to think about four things. I use the acronym LIFE for these. What are the lessons that you want other people to be able to say they remember you’re teaching them? What are the ideals that people say you stand for? What are the feelings that others would say they feel they have when they are around you? What’s the evidence that you had an impact or you’ve made a difference? Lessons, Ideals, Feelings, and Evidence. If you think about it 20, 15, or 5 years from now, whenever I leave the role I’m in and move on. What do I want people to say about me related to those four things? What are the lessons they learned from me? What are the ideals they say that I stood for?

TTL 760 | The Leadership Challenge
The Leadership Challenge: Training and development and coaching and leadership help people to see themselves as leaders.


What are the feelings that people had when they were around me? What is the evidence that I made an impact on those individuals, organization and community? Answering those questions will help you then to say, “Where am I now in relationship to those? What do I need to do differently? What do I need to strengthen?” I wouldn’t need to keep doing so make yourself a plan. The answer to this question of developing yourself as leaders, we posed in every Personal Best Leadership Experience interview, the most memorable answer to that came from Major General John Stanford who at that time was Head of Military Traffic Management Command at Alameda’s Army Base and then he became Head of MTMC around the country. When he retired from the military, he became a County Administrator in Fulton County, Georgia during the Olympics period.

He then moved on to become superintendent of schools in Seattle Unified School District. He was a man dedicated to the community and public service. When I asked him this question, he gave me an answer that made me sit up straight, make sure the recorder was working, and I was taking notes. He said, “When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside of the people that have a greater desire to get things done than other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t feel the excitement that helps them to get ahead and lead others and to achieve. I don’t know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and it’s more positive a feeling than love is.” Diane, I did not expect to hear that from a Major General.

It’s memorable that we close every addition to The Leadership Challenge now 6 going on 7 with that story because it was powerful and impactful. It caused us to think about what is the secret to success in life. What in the long-term will make us someone who will leave a positive legacy that we wish to leave behind? John was definitely on to something. He made a huge contribution himself. When he retired from the military that was something everybody knew about him that that was the secrets to success in life. According to Major General John Stanford, when he retired, they flew a plane with a banner behind it over the ceremony that said, “Stay in love.” He left that memory with us and that’s great advice, to stay in love.

That’s a great place to end because you’ve left a positive legacy. Everything that you’ve done is inspirational. I was looking forward to having you on the show and you’ve shared many great lessons, Jim. Thank you for being on. Many people would want to learn more from you and follow your work. Is there some website, social media or something you’d like to share for people to follow you?

I’m on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can find me there. We also have a website where you can see a collection of our work and what we do. That would be the best place to go.

That’s awesome. Thank you.

Thank you.

This was enlightening. You’re welcome.

I’d like to thank Jim for being my guest. I get many amazing guests on this show. I’m excited to have Jim on because his work is impressive. I interviewed more than 1,000 people on my show. I know it’s hard to keep up with all of the shows, so I’m sure you’ve missed a few. I’m sure you might have some of our episodes. If you have, you can find them at We are on the radio stations that listed on the site and we’re also listed where most of the podcasts air. It’s nice to go back and even read them once in a while. There’s also information about Cracking The Curiosity Code, The Power Of Perception, my Curiosity Code Index, and the Perception Power Index. Everything is all there on the site. If you have questions about speaking, training, or any of that, you can do everything on the same site. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Jim Kouzes

TTL 760 | The Leadership ChallengeJim Kouzes is the coauthor with Barry Posner of the award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, with over 2.5 million copies in print. He’s also the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University.

The sixth edition of The Leadership Challenge was released in 2017 and is available in 22 languages. It was selected by FastCompany as one of the 2012 Best Business Books of the Year, was on the 2013 Wall Street Journal bestseller list, an Amazon Editor’s Pick in 2007, and the winner of the 1995-96 Critics’ Choice Award. It has been named one of the 100 best business books of all time by 800-CEO-READ. Jim and Barry have coauthored over thirty other publications including Learning Leadership, The Truth About Leadership, A Leader’s Legacy, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, Encouraging the Heart, The Leadership Challenge Workbook, and the Encouraging the Heart Workbook.

Jim and Barry also developed the highly acclaimed Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), a 360-degree leadership assessment questionnaire, and it is the top-selling off-the-shelf leadership assessment instrument in the world.

Jim was again named in 2017 as one of the top 30 Global Gurus in Leadership, is the 2010 recipient of the Thought Leadership Award from the Instructional Systems Association, and for 4 years in a row named to HR Magazines Most Influential International Thinkers. In 2006 he was presented with the Golden Gavel by Toastmasters International. Jim and Barry are the recipients of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) 2009 Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance Award.

Not only is Jim a highly regarded leadership scholar, The Wall Street Journal cited Jim as one of the twelve best executive educators in the U.S.

Specialties: Leadership assessment and coaching, leadership skills development, keynote presentations, research and writing

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